Start with Respect to Make Schools Safer

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Authored by: Kevin M. Craig 

Violence in schools exists in many forms- from bullying and physical altercations between students to the threat of targeted violence from internal and external actors. While violence prevention is a year-round obligation for schools, the month of October provides several opportunities for school communities and their partners to address school violence head-on as the school year gets into full swing. 

For New Jersey schools, the week beginning with the first Monday in October of each year is designated as a “Week of Respect.” School districts must observe the “Week of Respect” by providing age-appropriate instruction focusing on the prevention of harassment, intimidation, and bullying as defined by State Anti-Bullying legislation. Although schools are required to provide ongoing age-appropriate instruction on this topic in accordance with the core curriculum content standards throughout the school year, the “Week of Respect” can serve as an important starting point for school violence prevention efforts and set the standards and expectations for interactions among students and staff throughout the year. 

In addition to the “Week of Respect,” NJ law requires that all school districts, charter schools, Renaissance school projects and approved private schools for students with disabilities (“APSSDs”) designate the week beginning with the third Monday in October of each year as “School Violence Awareness Week.” This week provides an opportunity for districts and schools to bring staff, students, parents, and law enforcement together to actively engage in violence prevention and school safety. This week also presents opportunities to address emerging issues that may have arisen related to remote and hybrid learning over the past year such as isolation, depression, anxiety, and staff and student mental health and wellness.

In accordance with the NJ Uniform State Memorandum of Agreement between Education and Law Enforcement Officials (“MOA”), school leaders are required to invite law enforcement personnel to join school officials in the events organized to observe “School Violence Awareness Week.” This is another great opportunity for school officials and their law enforcement partners to engage in the important work of school violence prevention as well as providing opportunities for student and community relationship building for both schools and police. 

While collaborating and planning for “School Violence Awareness Week” activities, school and law enforcement leaders should take advantage of this time to conduct the annual review and approval of the MOA during the month of October if it has not been completed prior to the start of the school year.

Guidance for the annual review and approval of the MOA states: “Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:16-6.2(b)14, the district board of education’s policies and procedures must include an annual process for the chief school administrator and appropriate law enforcement officials to do the following:

  • Discuss the implementation of and the need for revising the MOA; and
  • Review the effectiveness of the policies and procedures adopted by the district board of education and implemented by the school district in accordance with N.J.A.C. 6A:16-6.
  • There is no set time period for the review, but it must occur annually.
  • The annual review must include input from the executive county superintendent, community members (which could include board of education members) and meeting(s) with the county prosecutor and the law enforcement officials designated by the county prosecutor.
  • There is no requirement or provision for an annual, one-page update form, unless a local update form is used to formally document the annual review and signatures. In the case of educational agencies without district boards of education (e.g., charter schools, renaissance school projects, approved private schools for students with disabilities), the authorized officer of the educational agency’s governing body would sign where indicated for the president of the district board of education.”1

While the guidance clearly indicates that there is no set time period for conducting and completing the MOA annual review, other required partner collaborations during the month of October make this a convenient time to review and approve the MOA.

N.J.A.C. 6A:16-5.1 requires that “each school district develop and implement comprehensive plans, procedures, and mechanisms that provide for safety and security in the school district’s public elementary and secondary schools.” It is further required  under N.J.A.C. 6A:16-5.1 that “the chief school administrator consult with law enforcement agencies, health and social services provider agencies, emergency management planners, and school and other community resources, as appropriate, in the development of the school district’s plans, procedures, and mechanisms for school safety and security.” Moreover, “the plans, procedures, and mechanisms be reviewed annually and updated as appropriate.” Each year, the Chief School Administrator must sign a Statement of Assurance (“SOA”) certifying that these requirements have been met. The SOA specifically states that the review and update must be completed by the third week of October. 

New Jersey schools start the month of October with the “Week of Respect” and conclude with “School Violence Awareness Week”. These events provide schools with ample opportunities for stakeholder engagement and inter-agency partnerships and collaboration in-between. 

If properly planned and coordinated, these required activities and the events and collaborative meetings that result from them can “jump start” the violence prevention and school safety efforts that will continue throughout the school year. Take advantage of these opportunities to engage with internal and external partners during the month of October to foster a culture of respect and security in your school.

1https://www.state.nj.us/education/students/safety/behavior/law/moa/MOAReviewGuidanceJan2019.pdf